By Elise Viebeck - 09/19/11 09:00 AM EDT
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) knows that small farmers on the Great Plains
are under pressure.
But this doesn’t stop the Tea Party-backed freshman from telling constituents that their subsidies may soon disappear.
“I told my farmers that direct payments are going to be reduced,” he said. “Groups like the corn growers will come in and say, ‘Here are our top five priorities.’ And we say, ‘No, no, no: What is your first priority? We can’t do it all.’
“There are a lot of subsidies to target, and agriculture would like to do its fair share.”
“Didn’t find a single person that disagreed,” he said.
The district also received more federal farm subsidy payments than any other between 1995 and 2006, when it was represented by then-Reps. Pat Roberts (1981-1997) and Jerry Moran (1997-2011), the state’s current U.S. senators. (Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was the current district’s first congressman, after the state underwent redistricting in 1962.)
Now, in a time of more austerity, Huelskamp believes eliminating trade barriers and some environmental regulations would soften the blow of further cuts and allow farmers to preserve their way of life.
His first memory of politics, he said, was the day President Jimmy Carter declared a grain embargo on Russia, which resulted in lower prices for his family’s crops.
“Our elevator prices went down in response to what Washington, D.C., did. I said to myself: ‘You mean to tell me that people want to buy our stuff, and we’re going to refuse to sell it to them?’”
Huelskamp favors the free-trade agreements now touted by President Obama as jobs measures, but he argues — as do many of his Republican colleagues — that the administration’s approach to regulation stifles the private economy.
In late June, he pursued this line of thinking in a letter to the head of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf, asking him to list the federal departments and programs that do not contribute to economic growth, and to outline what level of cuts would impede recovery in those that do.
In a response that made headlines in August, Elmendorf laid out what supporters saw as the basics of Keynesian economics.
Conservative blogs said Elmendorf ducked the question. Liberal blogs said Huelskamp needed the economics lesson.
“I’m still waiting for his answer,” Huelskamp said.
Of Obama, he asked, “If you want to talk about job creation, how do you compromise with somebody in the White House who has never held a private job?”
The Environmental Protection Agency, a bugbear for many Republicans, is the chief source of regulations harming his constituents, Huelskamp said, and in July, he proposed a $3 billion cut to its budget.
The amendment failed 126-284 on the floor.
He recounted the agency’s desire to end an annual spring burn at a local grazing area over air-quality concerns, and argued that such a move would “completely decimate a way of life.”
The action has not been taken, but Huelskamp cited other EPA policies — on farm dust and herbicides in particular — that create problems for farmers.
“We’ll take care of our environment — we live here! You’re telling us we can’t take care of our own land and water? Our grandchildren are going to be drinking that water! You don’t think I care about it more than a bureaucrat in Washington?”
Though Huelskamp has spent most of his career in the Kansas state Senate, he briefly pursued another path — the Catholic priesthood — spending two years at seminary before beginning to work on his bachelor’s degree.
In July, he proposed a rule that would exempt chaplains on Naval bases from performing gay marriages. The amendment passed as part of the Defense authorization bill, which is now in the Senate.
“If people are broke, they’re a little less worried about some of the values questions,” he said. “But I talk about the value of marriage, the value of life and families. My constituents expect that from me.”
Huelskamp’s social conservatism helped bring him to a near-perfect score on a recent ideological ranking by the Heritage Foundation.
He led the Kansas delegation with only three demerits. Two related to his support for farm subsidies.
“Those that are successful anywhere in life, and particularly in politics, identify a core set of principles, and then make decisions based on those principles,” he said.
“That’s the moral expectation of a community where deals are sealed with a handshake, and people still expect you to go to church every Sunday.”